By Kieran Lynch
FERMANAGH U17 boss Niall McElroy has conceded that his side have ‘big challenges’ ahead in their Ulster Championship group, but he hopes that their progress in the league will stand them in good stead.
They are alongside Derry, Donegal, Down and Monaghan, in what is as tough a group as they could have asked for.
“Some of the best teams in the competition this year are in our group, big challenges,” said McElroy.
“Derry and Donegal played in the league final, two very good teams. Down are in there as well who are always a big challenge. You’ve Monaghan who narrowly missed out in the league final after losing to Derry.
“We know what we’re facing up to, but we’ve progressed over the league games and hopefully we’ll be ready for the championship and can give a good account of ourselves.”
Key to Fermanagh’s chances will be centre half-back Oisin Swift and forwards Mattie McDermott and Michael Burns, as well as the fact that they kick off their campaign with home advantage against Monaghan who got off to a flyer against Down last weekend.
“The chance to play at home is always good, there is familiarity,” said McElroy.
“Especially at underage level, settling in the game early on is a big thing, if you stay in the game in the first half, it’s always a positive of the players. Hopefully that familiarity will benefit us.”
Fermanagh didn’t have an easy league campaign either, with defeats suffered against Donegal, Sligo and Tyrone, but McElroy believes that his players are progressing and showing signs of improvement as the league progresses.
“We had a challenging league,” he conceded.
“We played against Donegal and Tyrone, serious tests. We played Sligo as well which was a more competitive game for us, but we found it difficult against Donegal and Tyrone.
“We gave a great account of ourselves at stages through the league. It’s about player development, at this level, and trying to improve the players as much as we can, and we could see throughout the league, week on week, they’re improving with each game and they’re progressing well.”
Playing as many competitive games as possible will be pivotal to player development, thus McElroy is happy with the group format of the Ulster U-17 Championship.
“This type of format suits the likes of Fermanagh,” he said.
“This is the first time in possibly over 20 years where a Fermanagh minor team will play at least four games in the championship which is great for player development.
“I suppose we’re always trying to bring players through to u-20 level and then to senior level, nothing beats games and we’re getting a minimum of four this year which is brilliant.
“Players get exposure to the top teams over a number of weeks which will really bring them on and is a great experience for them at this age to get this opportunity.”